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Alexei Navalny wins prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought

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MEPs have awarded Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny the European Parliament’s 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala announced the 2021 laureate in the Strasbourg plenary chamber on Wednesday afternoon, following an earlier decision by the Conference of Presidents (President and political group leaders).

“We are making it clear that Putin's attempts to silence opponents are not working. Alexei Navalny deserves this award for his continued fight for human rights, open democracy and against corruption in Russia, as well as for his resistance to Vladimir Putin and his regime. For this fight, he almost paid the highest price: his life. He has been bullied, harassed, imprisoned, arrested, poisoned and re-arrested countless times since 2006 and he’s still standing. He is truly committed to the freedom of thought”, said Peter van Dalen MEP (NL, EPP) who put forward Mr Navalny’s candidacy. “By awarding him the Sakharov Prize, we are also honouring numerous other people who have fallen victim to Putin’s regime in recent years. Alexei Navalny is therefore the icon of the resistance against the dictatorship in Moscow”, concluded van Dalen.

Rasa Juknevičienė, Vice-Chairwoman of the EPP Group said: “It is a clear signal to the Kremlin regime that the European Parliament will continue to support the fight for democracy, for human rights and against corruption in Russia. Russia can have a democratic future, Russia can be different, because all empires collapse. We want a Europe without dictators!”

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Parliament President David Sassoli said: “The European Parliament has chosen Alexei Navalny as the winner of this year’s Sakharov Prize. He has campaigned consistently against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime, and through his social media accounts and political campaigns, Navalny has helped expose abuses and mobilise the support of millions of people across Russia. For this, he was poisoned and thrown in jail.”

“In awarding the Sakharov Prize to Alexei Navalny, we recognise his immense personal bravery and reiterate the European Parliament’s unwavering support for his immediate release”, he added.

Vice-President Hautala said: “This year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded to an advocate for change. Alexei Navalny has shown great courage in his attempts to restore the freedom of choice to the Russian people. For many years, he has fought for human rights and fundamental freedoms in his country. This has cost him his freedom and nearly his life. On behalf of the European Parliament, I call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

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Background

Fighting corruption in Russia

Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition politician, anti-corruption activist and major political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He came to international prominence for organising demonstrations against President Putin and his government, running for office and advocating for anti-corruption reforms. In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned and spent months recovering in Berlin. He was arrested on his return to Moscow in January 2021. He is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, with more than two years still remaining. Now incarcerated in a high-security penal colony, Navalny went on a long hunger strike in late March 2021 to protest his lack of access to medical care. In June 2021, a Russian court banned Alexei Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, both now classified as extremist and undesirable by the Russian authorities.

The Sakharov award ceremony will be held on 15 December in Strasbourg. Read more about the other Sakharov Prize finalists in 2021 here.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov and the prize money is 50 000 euros.

Last year, Parliament awarded the prize to the democratic opposition of Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women and political and civil society figures.

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Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Common Agricultural Policy reform gets final approval from MEPs

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On Tuesday (23 November), Parliament gave the green light to the new EU Farm Policy. This reformed version aims to be greener, fairer, more flexible and transparent, AGRI, Plenary session.

During the negotiations on the legislative reform package, MEPs insisted that strengthening biodiversity and adhering to the EU’s environmental and climate laws and commitments will be key to the implementation of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), taking effect in 2023. While the Commission will assess whether national CAP strategic plans are in line with these commitments, farmers will have to comply with climate- and environmentally-friendly practices. Member states will be obliged to ensure that at least 35% of the rural development budget and at least 25% of direct payments will be dedicated to environmental and climate measures.

More support for small farms and young farmers

MEPs ensured that a minimum of 10% of direct payments will be used to support small and medium-sized farms and at least 3% of the CAP budget will go to young farmers. They also insisted that a crisis reserve with an annual budget of €450 million (in current prices) will be permanently ready to help farmers with price or market instability.

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More transparency and better compliance with labour rules

As a result of Parliament’s pressure, EU labour rules in agricultural sectors will be better monitored and infringements penalised thanks to the cooperation between national labour inspectors and CAP paying agencies.

Information about final beneficiaries of EU support will be more transparent thanks to an EU data mining tool, which member states will get access to and which helps to identify the risk of fraud occurring by cross-checking information in public databases.

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The “Strategic plans regulation” was adopted with 452 votes in favour, 178 against and 57 abstentions, the “Horizontal regulation” with 485 votes in favour, 142 against and 61 abstentions and the “Common market organisation regulation” with 487 in favour, 130 against and 71 abstentions.

Rapporteur for the 'Strategic plans regulation' Peter Jahr (EPP, DE) said: “By approving the CAP reform, we guarantee planning security not only for member states, but above all for our European farmers. We have ensured that this CAP is more sustainable, transparent and predictable. The new delivery model will reduce the bureaucratic burden of agricultural policy on farmers. Our vote today has shown that we want to protect and promote family farms, the people who maintain and preserve our cultural landscape.”

Rapporteur for the 'Horizontal regulation' Ulrike Müller (RE, DE) said: “Today marks a historic day for the new CAP, a day when we advance towards a more environmentally ambitious, socially aware and performance-oriented agricultural policy. The new delivery model will ensure that the focus of the CAP will be more on achieving its targets and less on simply complying with the rules. We also made sure CAP payments are more transparent and that the EU’s financial interests are better protected. This CAP will really be a success.”

Rapporteur for the 'Common market organization regulation' Eric Andrieu (S&D, FR) said: “For the first time in more than 30 years, thanks to the common market organisation part of the CAP reform, the reforms approved today will mean more market regulation than deregulation. We can be proud of how far we have come, because the progress made is important for farmers, for the sector, and for consumers. The common market organisation is certainly a first step in the right direction.”

Next steps

Current CAP rules were extended after 31 December 2020 and replaced by transitional rules until the end of 2022. Once approved by the Council, the new rules will be applicable from 1 January 2023.

More information 

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Artificial intelligence

AI: 'We need to act fast to realise the EU's potential'

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The EU could set global standards on Artificial Intelligence (AI), but to reap its benefits the rules must come fast and be flexible, said Axel Voss (pictured), the MEP responsible for a report on AI, Society.

"We have to be aware that AI is of extremely strategic relevance," said Axel Voss (EPP, Germany) in this Facebook live interview. The MEP is guiding the report from the special committee on artificial intelligence in a digital age through the European Parliament.

Acknowledging the technology's importance, the Parliament set up the committee to focus on AI, learn how it might influence the EU economy, find out   about different countries' approaches and come up with suggestions for future legislation.

The draft report, presented to the committee on 9 November 2021, says the EU should focus on AI's enormous potential. Report author Voss said this  technology could play a key role in areas such as climate change, the health sector and EU competitiveness.

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Learn more about what AI is and how it is used.

Can the EU become a bigger AI player?

The EU is falling behind in the global tech race and if it wants to remain an economic and global power, the report says, it should become a global power in AI. If the EU does not act swiftly and courageously, it will end up becoming a "digital colony" of China, the US and other states and risk losing its political stability, social security and individual liberties, the report says. In addition, emerging technologies could lead to a global power shift away from the Western world.

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The EU's failure to commercialise technological innovations means "our best ideas, talent and companies" are going elsewhere, according to the report. Voss warned that the window of opportunity is closing, saying the EU needs to “concentrate, prioritise, invest”.

Europe should concentrate more on business models that would enable the transformation of research into products, ensure a competitive environment for companies and prevent a brain drain. Only 8 of top 200 digital companies are based in the EU.

The importance of data

Data is crucial for the development of AI. "If we think that we can compete in the world without providing data, then we are out," Voss said. "We should be focusing more on how we can provide data, including personal data."

"Too many people think that we can't open GDPR right now," which means a lack of data for EU industry, he said. GDPR sets a global standard, Voss said, "but not with the mind-set that if we have reached a golden standard we can’t change it any longer: you only stay in the first place if you are always improving."

"The big collectors of data are in China or the US. If we do want to do something about this, we have to do something very fast because speed is a question of competition in this area."

Democracy and human rights concerns

The EU is "used to setting standards and combining them with fundamental rights, with core European values. This is what we can deliver and I would also say this is something the world also needs," he said.

Voss believes the EU can mitigate the risks AI can pose to human rights and democracy when misused, as in some authoritarian states, "if we do this pragmatically”.

He warns against an ideological approach. “If we concentrate on combining this technology with our core European values and don’t overburden our industry and our companies, we have a good chance of succeeding."

Learn more about what the Parliament wants regarding AI rules.

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European Parliament

Future of Europe: Citizens’ panels take the floor

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Citizens’ panels will meet over the coming months to discuss the EU’s future and make recommendations. Find out more, EU affairs.

The Conference on the Future of Europe is putting people at the centre of the discussion on how the EU should evolve to face future challenges. Citizens’ panels have an important role to play: they will discuss ideas from events across the EU and proposals submitted through the Conference platform and will make recommendations to be discussed with EU institutions and other stakeholders.

Who is taking part?

There are four European citizens’ panels, each one including 200 citizens. Panel members have been selected randomly, but in a way that reflects the EU’s diversity. For example, there will be an equal number of men and women in each panel as well as a proportional representation of Europeans from urban and rural areas. Young people between 16 and 25 will make up one third of the members.

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What will be discussed?

Each panel will deal with some of the topics on which people have been invited to propose ideas:

  • Stronger economy, social justice and jobs/education, culture, youth, sport/digital transformation;
  • European democracy/values and rights, rule of law, security;
  • climate change, environment/health, and;
  • the EU in the world/migration.


Panel members will be able to raise additional issues. Independent experts will be available at the meetings to provide advice.

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When will citizens’ panels meet?

Each of the panels will meet three times. The first sessions took place over four weekends between 17 September and 17 October in Parliament’s premises in Strasbourg. The second sessions will take place online in November and the third sessions will be held in December and January in cities across the EU, if the health situation permits.

The schedule for the four citizens’ panels

PanelTopicsFirst sessionSecond sessionThird session
1Stronger economy, social justice and jobs /education, culture, youth, sport/digital transformation17-19 September5-7 November3-5 December (Dublin)
2European democracy/values and rights, rule of law, security24-26 September12-14 November10-12 December (Florence)
3Climate change, environment/ health1-3 October19-21 November7-9 January (Warsaw)
4The EU in the world/migration15-17 October26-28 November14-16 January (Maastricht)

What will be the outcome?

Panels will formulate recommendations, which will be discussed at the Conference Plenary that brings together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments as well as other stakeholders. Twenty representatives from each panel will take part in Conference Plenaries and will present the outcome of panels’ work.

The panels’ recommendations will feed into the final Conference report, which will be prepared in the spring of 2022 by the executive board of the Conference. The board comprises representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission - the institutions that will have to follow up on the conclusions - as well as observers from all Conference stakeholders. The report will be drawn up in full collaboration with the Conference Plenary and will have to receive its approval.

How to follow panels’ work?

Panel sessions where all members meet will be streamed online. You will be able to find more details about them on the Conference platform. 

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